Professor David Baecker’s Class is Among Several at Sage to Partner with the Refugee Welcome Center

Associate Professor of Theatre David Baecker, MFA, has collaborated with Director of Service Learning Alison Schaeffing, Ph.D., to develop community-engaged coursework for an acting class, which wrote and performed monologues for a YWCA fundraiser, and a theatre class, which mentored middle school students as they read The Glass Menagerie.

When Baecker became interested in incorporating a community-centered assignment into his Public Speaking class, Schaeffing put him in touch with the Refugee Welcome Center in Albany.

Director of Service Learning Alison Schaeffing interviews visitors from the Refugee Welcome Center during a Public Speaking class.

Director of Service Learning Alison Schaeffing (left) interviews visitors from the Refugee Welcome Center during a Public Speaking class.

The growing center is interested in engaging higher education in its work and offers opportunities for creative collaboration said Schaeffing, who joined its board of directors after facilitating several projects between Sage and the Welcome Center.

After considering the RWC’s needs and Public Speaking learning outcomes, Baecker assigned his students to conduct in-person interviews with individuals involved with the center: recently-arrived refugees, refugees who are now citizens and business owners, landlords, volunteers, neighbors, law enforcement outreach officers and others. The students then delivered class presentations based on their interviews.

The students built interview and presentation skills and came away with a diverse view of the Refugee Welcome Center’s neighborhood and the work that goes on there, said Baecker. “People are still talking about that morning of interviews last fall, recalling how uplifting the students’ interest and enthusiasm was,” said the center’s executive director, Tim Doherty. The reports provided the Welcome Center with valuable information, said Schaeffing. “The diverse perspectives collected by the students create a broader scope of understanding that will be useful to the center for program planning, fundraising and building awareness in the community.”

During the students’ final presentations, they expressed appreciation for a community-centered assignment among the traditional coursework on the Public Speaking syllabus. One student, whose family hosts exchange students, said this project offered her an entirely different view of what it is like to live in the U.S. as a citizen of another country. Another student, a naturalized citizen herself, said the Refugee Welcome Center “lives up to the ‘welcome’ in its name and what they are doing to help.” She was moved to hear about the process of becoming American from those for whom “it doesn’t go as smoothly as it did for me.” Another student remarked that she became aware of how “we use stereotypes and forget that we all have a story to tell.”

Public Speaking students Jillian Maser ’22 and Gina Bogdasarov ’22 will continue to work with the RWC and with Baecker and Schaeefing to design a new collaborative project for fall 2020, with a grant from the American Association of Colleges and Universities’ Bringing Theory to Practice initiative.

Across Sage, several students, faculty and programs partner with the Refugee Welcome Center.

Sage students lead a Trunk or Treat activity for children at the Refugee Welcome Center in October, 2019.

Sage students lead a Trunk or Treat activity for children at the Refugee Welcome Center in October, 2019.

Sage students with visitors from the Refugee Welcome Center

Members of Alison Schaeffing’s WORLD 401 class with teenage visitors from the Refugee Welcome Center.

Noora Ahmed ’23 holds a community work-study position, assisting with the RWC’s young adult program and helping teenagers who are refugees navigate the college application process. Students in Food, Culture and Nutrition, taught by Eileen Lindemann, RD, hold monthly teas with a nutrition-related theme for women at the center and are designing a culturally-appropriate community garden in the Welcome Center neighborhood. Students in the WORLD 401 general education section taught by Economics Professor Manijeh Sabi, Ph.D., ran social media for the center and helped it raise $1,500 on Giving Tuesday in fall 2019, and Schaeffing’s own WORLD 401 students lead activities for children at the center. Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies Mike Bienkowski, MBA, has partnered with the Welcome Center in the past and is now working with Schaeffing to integrate community engagement into the new general education curriculum, launching in fall 2020 across the college.

“Thanks to collaborative relationships between Sage faculty, the Refugee Welcome Center and dozens of other agencies serving the Capital District, community-engaged learning is becoming part of every student’s Sage experience,” said Schaeffing